A lesser-known Dalit group led by a lawyer actively used social media to rally protestors and allegedly orchestrated Tuesday's violence in Saharanpur in which a police post was set on fire and a number of persons were injured, district authorities said today.
District officials said the group was enraged over members of the Thakur community allegedly clashing with Dalits and torching their houses in Shabbirpur village on May 5 after they refused to allow a procession to mark the birth anniversary of Rajput king Maharana Pratap.
Some of those who were injured in the May 5 clashes and recuperating at the district hospital here said their community members objected to the procession as upper caste Thakurs had earlier stopped Dalits from installing a statue of BR Ambedkar on the premises of a 'Ravidas Mandir' in the village.
The officials said the Bheem Army Bharat Ekta Mission, founded by 30-year old lawyer Chandrasekhar, circulated messages on WhatsApp and other social media platforms, appealing to members of the Dalit community to attend a 'mahapanchayat' on 9 May.
Around 600 Dalits and over 900 Thakurs reside in the village, about 35 km from where the violence erupted on May 9.
The officials said the Bheem Army Bharat Ekta Mission, founded by 30-year old lawyer Chandrasekhar, circulated messages on WhatsApp and other social media platforms, appealing to members of the Dalit community to attend a 'mahapanchayat' on 9 May in Gandhi Park to demand compensation and relief for those affected in last week s inter-caste clashes.
District Magistrate N P Singh said the administration turned down their request for holding 'mahapanchayat' and the Dalit men took to the streets to protest against it.
"The protesters had also come from at least three neighbouring districts," he said.
Singh said it seemed to be a "planned exercise, considering the men indulged in violence in five-six areas across the city simultaneously. The group apparently sent provocative messages to members on WhatsApp.
The protestors blocked roads in Rampur Maniharan, Ramnagar, Nazirpura, Halalpur and Malhipur, and hurled stones at police personnel, who lathi charged them.
They also set the Ramnagar police post, a private bus on Behat road and over a dozen two wheelers ablaze. Several persons, including five policemen, were injured in the violence.
Senior Superintendent of Police Subhash Chandra Dubey said the rioters opened fire on officers using country-made pistols.
A few media persons were also allegedly manhandled and their equipment damaged.
A group of media persons yesterday protested against the Bheem Army and submitted a memorandum to the Tehsildar, Behat, demanding stern action against the group and its spearhead.
The police said protesters also vandalised Maharana Pratap Bhavan in Ramnagar area on Malhipur road.
They said a Rajput group filed a complaint alleging that Chandrashekhar provoked Dalit men and indulged in violence at Maharana Pratap Bhavan.
Attempts to contact Chandrasekhar on phone did not fructify.
Two persons, Sachin Singh Ambedkar and Rahul Gautam, have been arrested for allegedly circulating provocative messages on WhatsApp and Facebook, the police said.
The SSP said 24 people have been arrested in connection with incidents of stone-pelting and arson.
The police said they will go through the CCTV footage to identify and arrest the others involved in stone-pelting and torching the police post and vehicles.
The district magistrate said the district has been divided into five zones and 22 sectors for better maintenance of the law and order situation.
In April, the police had registered FIRs against local BJP MP Raghav Lakhanpal Sharma and around 300 other unidentified protestors, after clashes erupted during a rally organised to mark Ambedkar Jayanti in Sadak Dudhli village in the district.
The march was organised without the nod of the administration. Processions on Ambedkar Jayanti are banned in communally-sensitive Saharanpur for seven years.